Last night (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ventured forth to Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., for UFC 281. Similar to last month’s showcase event of UFC 280, this pay-per-view (PPV) card was carried by pair of title fights. Unlike UFC 280, however, the event was not marred by weirdness and boring fights. UFC 281 was as electric as advertised, from the knockout-filled “Prelims” all the way up to the violent main card.
Let’s take a look at UFC 281’s best performances and techniques:
Alex Pereira vs. Israel Adesanya proved a very strange dynamic.
Pereira had a difficult time finding his opponent’s jawline. In fact, he landed a large majority of his shots to the legs and body, out-landing Adesanya on those targets. Conversely, Adesanya was cracking his foe’s jaw more often in the early exchanges, landing his 1-2 down the middle on several occasions.
The grappling was another bit of oddness. Adesanya really had the right ideas, going for the high-level takedown tactics that are commonly effective in MMA, like the single leg left to trip or general maneuvering towards the back. Unfortunately for “Stylebender,” he was the weaker man. This resulted in Pereira winning many clinch/wrestling exchanges despite making technically worse decisions.
Pereira’s shot selection was also a bit unusual. The left hook wasn’t there for him until the final frame. For most of the fight, it was his jab doing damage and controlling range. Despite the jab landing well since the second frame, he wasn’t following it with the right hand very often. That changed in the fifth, and the knockout came within minutes (watch highlights).
It was all just a touch odd. Thankfully, it was still an incredible fight despite the quirks. Adesanya really showed off his creative kickboxing brilliance and his superior MMA skills throughout much of the time, but ultimately, “Poatan” simply hits too hard. Adesanya spent too much time along the fence, and it eventually cost him everything.
Weili Don’t Play That!
Fortunately for fight fans, we didn’t have to worry about another Carla Esparza vs. Rose Namajunas 2 situation, not when Zhang Weili stood opposite her! “Magnum” only knows how to fight aggressively, so there was no concern of another nothing fight.
In truth, Weili’s aggression was perhaps a bit over the top. On a couple of occasions, she seemed to hurt Esparza with strikes then willingly grapple, confident in her ability to attack there as well. Esparza gained top position a couple times as a result, a potentially worrying outcome if the fight extended long.
Fortunately, the Chinese athlete didn’t let that happen, either. She did a great job in the stand up of using her lead leg to chew up Esparza’s legs and mid-section, helping slow the former champion down for head shots. Then, when the two did grapple, Weili’s physicality made itself clear. She straight up threw Esparza off her a couple times, also managing to dig some mean elbows while Esparza tried to chain wrestle her way into top position.
The end came from the crucifix (watch highlights), a lovely answer to the single leg takedown. It’s risky, because an error can result in top position still for the shooting fighter, but that’s Weili’s style! Even if she fell off in the first round, she attempted the same position in the second, and it secured her a slick rear naked choke.
Maybe Weili didn’t fight in the safest way possible, but having watched the other extreme in the previous Strawweight title fight, I think we’d all prefer a champion who errs on the side of VIOLENCE!
The Composure Of Poirier
Once again, Dustin Poirier engaged in a wildly entertaining fight against a fellow Lightweight killer. Once again, Poirier endured some brutal moments and damage, but his toughness and boxing fundamentals pulled through to earn another important victory (watch highlights).
He’s now defeated Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez, proving himself the king of the ultra violent Lightweights.
I don’t know that it sets him up for another title shot versus Islam Makhachev, but it’s been an incredible run for the Louisiana native. The man is so experienced and competent in even the most brutal of firefights — it’s incredible.
It hurt to watch Frankie Edgar walk into another perfect jump knee. As much as we Jersey boys wanted to believe the future Hall of Famer would turn back the clock and get his wrestling game going, it was clear within about 30 seconds that Chris Gutierrez was the faster and more dangerous man. The end result was clear, too. Gutierrez set it up beautifully, but it was all too predictable after just a quick glance at the action.
Another Leg Lock Specialist Implodes
Why are leg lock guys like this? Why can’t a fighter be good at leg locks and also have a competent wrestling and kickboxing game? Why, when the leg lock fails, can they not try to win the fight in other ways?
Claudio Puelles fell into the same trap of many others, from Rousimar Palhares to Ian Entwistle (Dan Hooker’s debut opponent!). It became clear that the leg lock wasn’t going to happen, but there was no backup plan. Puelles just kept rolling towards the legs in uglier and uglier attempts, and Hooker punished him until he quit (watch highlights).
It was a great return to form from Hooker, but it was still an odd fight overall.
Renato Moicano At His Best
Moicano really beat the crap out of Brad Riddell to close out the “Prelims” undercard (watch highlights).
Whatever Moicano and his camp did to prepare and warm up was the correct move. The Brazilian entered the cage zoned in and amped like, as if someone snuck a double dose of pre-workout into his Monster-branded water bottle. Immediately, he was stabbing the shorter man’s face with the jab, and when Riddell tried to fire back, Moicano pulled and fire his own right.
A slick head kick combination opened a cut on Riddell’s face, and Moicano just seemed in complete control of the stand up right until the moment he transitioned to wrestling. The folks at City Kickboxing are tough to take down, but Moicano used an increasingly popular strategy: off-balance his foe just enough to jump the back. Moicano didn’t complete a clinch takedown so much as get stuffed but circle towards the back, and then moments later, Riddell was tapping.
It’s very clearly the best Moicano has looked inside the Octagon, and if he can perform this way consistently, he’s going to climb the Lightweight ladder.
End Of The Devestator
Dominick Reyes’ career has turned into a warning.
He very possibly could have been 13-0, champion of the world, and man who dethroned Jon Jones. Instead, the judges went against him, and everything fell apart in the worst possible way. Knockout losses to Jan Blachowicz and Jiri Prochazka followed, but still, those defeats came to champions.
Ryan Spann is not a champion. He’s a talented physical force and did look damn sharp last night, but he’s never really shown an elite skill set. He’s won as many as he’s lost against Top 15-ish talent, and Reyes is supposed to be a clear-cut level above that.
Instead, Reyes was absolutely spanked, out-gunned from the first bell (watch highlights). Maybe this was the birth of a new-and-improved “Superman,” but it’s hard not to feel like Reyes hasn’t simply lost too much confidence and taken too many blows. Even in his losses to Prochazka and Blachowicz, Reyes at least had moments where he landed hard and showcased his talent.
There was no such silver lining last night.
The Future Of Flyweight
Erin Blanchfield is going to be champion someday.
At 23 years of age, she’s already the most accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu player in her division and has four UFC wins under her belt. Last night, she scored a pretty effortless first-round finish over Molly McCann, timing a double leg perfectly under a right hand to gain top position early. She never let McCann back up, advancing almost immediately into the top side crucifix.
McCann bucked and tugged at her arm, but anytime she freed herself, Blanchfield trapped it immediately. All the while, Blanchfield was sticking her with elbows and short punches. Eventually, she transitioned into the kimura rather than continuing to pound away, and McCann was pretty much defenseless the whole while (watch highlights).
Blanchfield may be too young to dethrone Valentina Shevchenko. Perhaps that timeline doesn’t line up. But, she’s going to advance into the Top 10 off this win, and she screams future champion more than anyone else at 125 pounds.
Mike Trizano missed weight on Friday, but his performance inside the cage against Seungwoo Choi really helped make up for that mishap. When the fight nearly starts with a rare double knockdown, there’s no way it can go bad! The two kept trading without any hesitancy, and Trizano dropped Choi a second time before long.
It didn’t take long for Choi to pay him back, hurting Trizano with a heavy left hook. He scored a takedown and pursued the finish aggressively, but The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran worked back up and went right back to trading heavy shots. Over and over, the duo traded hooks. However, Trizano seemed to be the man picking up on his opponent’s timing, allowing him to line up a perfect check hook that floored “Sting” for good (watch highlights).
- Matt Frevola defeats Ottman Azaitar via first-round knockout (HIGHLIGHTS): Time and time again, we see that a bevy of first-round finishes does not mean a prospect is a contender. Azaitar is perhaps better known for his “What’s in the bag?” nonsense, but his punching power is a close second. Even so, he looked rusty and off-balance after spending over two years on the sidelines. “The Steamrolla” had no such issues, landing cleaner shots from the first bell and absolutely smashing Frevola with a counter shot when “Bulldozer” tried to run him over. Frevola’s UFC record improves to 4-3-1 as a result of the win, and he’s been entertaining every single step of the way.
- Carlos Ulberg defeats Nicolae Negumereanu via first-round knockout (HIGHLIGHTS): Ulberg debuted with some hype behind him, due to his status as a City Kickboxing member and training partner of Adesanya. “Black Jag” didn’t really impress in his first two UFC fights, but hey, there were only his fifth and sixth professional fights! In his last two, he’s now secured a pair of first-round knockouts, proving that experience helps with potential. Against Negumereanu, Ulberg looked so quick and composed, chopping apart his opponent’s lead leg before the fight-finishing check hook landed.
For complete UFC 281: “Adesanya Vs. Pereira” results and play-by-play, click HERE.